Meditation

Practice, contemplation, and insights

A Mini-Experiment (Meditation and Blood Pressure)

This morning I went for my bi-annual physical. The first thing that the doctor’s assistant did after having me stand on the scale (a blood-pressure elevating activity out of habit), was take my blood pressure. It was on the low end of normal, as usual for me.

In the middle of the exam, after having intimate discussions about tratment to alleviate suffering vs. treatment for longevity, and similar topics, my doctor took my blood pressure again. No surprise: it was higher than it had been when I irst walked into the exam room.

When we were just about done, my doctor said, “let’s see if we can lower that blood pressure. Close your eyes and relax.” “Relax” can be a hard command to obey. Instead, I went right to where I go in meditation, softening to my mantra. In less than a minute, my blood pressure was lower than it had been at the start of the exam. “A beauty of meditation,” I said. “Yes,” my doctor replied (who is a very traditional western medical practitioner, “I wish I could get all my patients with high blood pressure to meditate.”

Share

Intention, Discipline, and Freedom

One of the primary themes at the Anusara certified teachers’ gathering this week with John Friend has been how discipline and technique serve our yoga. In keeping with the elemental Anusara principles of “attitude, alignment, and action” (iccha, jnana, kriya), the point has not been to emphasize rules for the sake of rules, form over substance, or technique for its own sake. Mastering technique, by itself, will not bring us to the ultimate intentions of yoga: living liberated (jivamukti), experiencing the very wonder, bliss, and dance of being.

But just playing or seeking freedom for its own sake, while we are embodied in human form, will not likely lead us to the most expansive and steady experience of ultimate freedom (svatantra). It is discipline and technique with the constant remembrance of the reaon for being disciplined about how we practice and live that will take us further on the path.

It can be nice, for example to go to a class where there is little emphasis on form, and the call is just to flow and feel. For me, though, because of my physical limitations (degeneration in my spine, old groin injury, etc–these do not define my being; they just inform how I practice), I feel far freer and more able to expand how much I can play the more attention I give to the physical alignment. In such a situation, the rigorous attention to detail is not for the sake of an external idea of what is right and what is wrong. Rather, it is the constant disciplined attention to alignment that frees me to play as free from injury, pain, and fear of injury as is possible in my body.

The discipline then becomes a way of self-affirmation. It is the limitations that lead me to have to focus more on technique than if I did not have the limitations. That attention then provides a ground for a more expansive practice and a deeper appreciation for the beauty of what the practice can offer.

Share

Windows That Open

When I first got to my room on the fourth floor of the hotel, the airconditioner was straining noisily, and the room was very stuffy. To My great delight — the windows not only open, but have screen and look out onto an unveveloped tract of land with trees higher than my window. I immediately opened the windows and let in the smell of fresh air and the sounds of the forest. There is occasional car noise, but it is muffled by the sounds of wind and rain in the trees.

I thought this morning how often I end up in an office building or hotel where the windows do not open. That cutting off access to the realities of nature, of what is greater than our little world, in order to have a controlled climate seems like much of modern life.

Many I know do not even notice that the windows do not open. Others of us, see the windows and want to know what is outside and to be with the greater energies. We seek to oprn the windows and know. Those who are able and so moved and who are able — rare beings — leave behind the buildings and go entirely on the renunciate path. The rest of us who live the life of householders, seek to have windows that open and spend time each day breathing in the sweetness of what is greater.

Share

Spam Filter (and thoughts in meditation)

When I have not looked at my email for several days, I am faced with dozens of emails in my two regular accounts, plus the spam folders.  The first thing I do is see what in the spam folder is not spam.  In doing that, I give some attention to everything in the folder.  Then I go through my in box to figure out what should have gone to spam.  Then I delete the spam.  Then I decide what emails from list serves there is no point in reading because if I have not read them immediately, I will have missed the letter-writing, petition-signing, event-going, offering-enjoying that is described in the email.  Those get deleted without being opened.  There is another level of emails that I open, but just skim.  Then I either delete quickly or leave to be read after I get to the important stuff.  Then there are the personal and business emails that I want to read and require my attention.  I look at them to see if they need immediate attention or can wait.

The thoughts that arise during meditation have a similar filter.  Some are spam.  There is a certain almost mesmerizing quality about the quantity and array of the thoughts, but I just let them go — returning to my mantra or the breath because the mantra is far more delightful than the thoughts.  Other thoughts, I acknowledge, but leave for later (i.e., the proverbial “to do” list), again finding more delight in the spaciousness and light of meditation.  Sometimes particular thoughts relevant to my practice and very being will start resonating in the light itself and becomes messages.  These thoughts sometimes dissolve again into the light of meditation and do not come with me from the session in a tangible form.  Others stay with me and give me fruit for contemplation, for investigation and study, for illumination of my day, or for discussion with others for further refinement.

Always, though, there is an acceptance that thoughts will arise as inevitably as one with multiple active email accounts and many list serves will get email.  The practice is learning which thoughts I should give heed, which to discard, and when and how to listen to those that will serve and inform.

Share

Forgetting to Take a Break (and a reminder of the importance of practice)

I got caught up in something in the middle of the day today.  By the time I could reasonably take a break (I did eat my lunch from home), it was too late to be able to get a real break.  I then worked fairly late.  By the end of the day, I really noticed the difference between a day when I have taken a walk, met a friend, sat at the Botanical Garden or the museum for even 15-20 minutes and this day, when I let myself get so tangled in the demands of work that I did not take a break.

I work better in the afternoon when I have taken a break, just as my work, my body, my digestion, my sleep, and my relationships are healthier when I practice consistently.  I no longer need a reminder how important it is both to take a good break each day and to find time for practice.  I am looking at this day, though, as a teaching lesson, an extra reminder of the importance of finding some delicious time to bring into the rest of the day.

Do you take a break to eat quietly or take a walk in the middle of your day?  Can you notice the difference the days you do and the days you don’t?  What about the weeks you practice and the weeks you do not?  Does this not fire you up with resolve to be steadier in your practice and kinder to yourself?

Share

Stand Steady in the Light (Workshop at Willow Street this Saturday)

One of the most wonderful ways we can find our own steadiness using asana practice is the joy of standing balancing poses.  Even when our feet are not steady, a gentle turning of our mind to a focused, steady place will bring us a sense of calm and ease.

Please join me this Saturday for:

Standing Steady in the Light: A Standing Balance Workshop, Sat May 8, 2:30-5pm, Willow Street Yoga Center, Takoma Park, $35.  Find a place of deeper steadiness and balance in your own light and worthiness.  Learn how to use the Anusara principles to enhance your ability to stand or your own two feet or on just one foot at a time.  After we playfully explore a progressively expansive array of standing poses, we’ll finish with a few upside-down restorative postures to let our legs and feet feel the bright light created by the practice.  Whether you find standing poses a challenge or revel in the dance, this workshop will illuminate your practice.  Everybody welcome.  To register, please visit www.willowstreetyoga.com.

Share

The Nyaya of the Cat and the Bunny

A nyaya is literally a recursion, something which leads back to an essential principle.  In my recent studies of meditation, we have been taught various nyayas that help to explicate the experience of meditation and the whys and benefits of steady practice.

At the place where we have been staying for our meditation and study retreats with Paul Muller-Ortega, there is a wonderful cat named Oberon.  I first met him last summer when I was walking the labyrinth just before dawn.  I’d heard a meow off in the distance.  Lonely for cat company since my Becky had so recently left her body, I called to the cat.  He came running to me and walked the labyrinth with me.  Each time I have visited, I have had some special moments with Oberon, who lives fully up to his name — Oberon being the King of the Faeries.

Oberon loves the meditation hall and often tries to get in.  He also brings offerings.  Last winter, he brought us a mostly dead bird.  As well intended as it might have been on Oberon’s part, it was not particularly welcomed in the meditation hall.  On the final night of our retreat this time, we were reveling in the good fortune of having fellow students (and my sometimes teachers and the creators of many CDs in my music collection) Heather and Benjy Wertheimer lead us in kirtan.  At one point, I left my place to go to the facilities.  A fellow student, stopped me, “Elizabeth, the cat has a really big mouse.”  I went to look.  Oberon did not have a mouse; he had a young bunny.  “It’s a bunny I said.”  The other students who were outside were horrified.

Without thinking, I went to him, “Oberon, drop it!” I said, as if it were appropriate to speak to the King of the Faeries as if he were an obedient dog.  He listened though and dropped the bunny, which remained frozen.  I held Oberon by the scruff of the neck.  “Go bunny; bunny run,” I said, but the bunny did not move.  I then tapped the bunny on his back at the tail.  The bunny remained frozen, though it did not appear yet to be injured.  I let go of Oberon and went to get a towel or something to pick up the bunny.  Then Oberon tapped the bunny just where I had touched it.  Off ran the bunny through the shoes neatly piled outside the meditation hall.  I caught Oberon and picked him up.  The bunny again froze, looking back at us.  At this point I was completely oblivious to anything other than the cat and the bunny.  “Bunny run; go now.”  Oberon squirmed, but did not scratch me, letting me continue to hold him.  Finally, the bunny ran off into the scrub and disappeared.  I put down Oberon.  He sniffed the trail, but then came back to me for a petting when I called.  “Thank you for the offering Oberon; I know it was well intentioned, but we are not so keen on bringing dead baby animals into the meditation hall.”  He sniffed, lifted his regal head, and sat down to wash.

Leaving aside what my actions may have done to the fabric of the world order and the pondering I could do about the interrelationship between destiny and free will, I felt that I had been given a wonderful lesson about life and practice. Practice can bring us great freedom if we stay steady on the path.  Like the bunny, though, we can stay frozen in fear and old patterns, even when we are given a glimpse of the freedom of self we can get from practice.  As dire as things may be (or perhaps even when they are at their worst), we return to the familiar, regardless of whether we are unhappy with it, regardless of how old patterns are limiting our ability to grow.  Sometimes it is dissatisfaction with and pain from the old patterns themselves (revealed more clearly by practice already begun) that push us to go further, just as it took Oberon getting the bunny to run again for me to realize he was sufficiently healthy to be able to run off.  And just as I stayed with Oberon and the bunny until the bunny finally took his chance at freedom, the practice and the truths and freedom practice can reveal will always be there.  No matter how many times we forget or return to the stuck and the familiar, the opportunity for growth and freedom continues to await.

When I am feeling stuck, when I am finding myself returning to patterns that do not serve, I will think about my own personal nyaya of the cat and the bunny.  I hope it will serve to keep me moving forward, less stuck, less attached to the familiar that no longer serves.

Share

Coming Home from Retreat (and Savasana)

How do you plan your return home from a retreat or vacation?  Do you come home at the very last minute, so that the travel is exhausting and the first day back at work is a struggle?  Or do you plan to have a day — or at least several hours — to unpack, make sure you have fresh food to eat, and have brought the feeling of vacation back into your home life before getting back to work?

When I was studying on retreat in Arizona, Paul Muller-Ortega took particular pains to emphasize the importance of doing savasana for at least a few minutes after sitting for meditation for a “slow re-entry.”  Without the resting time in between practicing/adventuring/celebrating/retreating and working, it is like eating a loaf of bread right out of the oven, rather than giving it at least 10-15 minutes to rest.  Right out of the oven, the is too hot and the texture is not right, and we cannot taste how good it is.  Give it a chance to rest, and it is exquisitely hot and fresh and perfect.

We need to rest, to reintegrate, to settle or we can feel like there is no point in going on vacation.  How many people do you know (perhaps you have said this yourself) who say there is no point in going on vacation because it just makes work harder on return?  When I take a shorter vacation/rest/retreat to account for reintegration time, and then fully reintegrate, the rejuvenating properties of getting away definitely last longer.

I returned very late Sunday night.  Yesterday I practiced at home, did my laundry, cleaned the yoga room, petted the cats, had a massage, did a little reading, cooked delicious food (homemade granola, kitcheree, greens from the garden), and went to sleep early.  Now I am off to work, seeking to bring what I learned into my day.

Share

Azalea Walk at the National Arboretum (and Sadhana)

As it is every year, the Azalea Walk at the National Arboretum fills me with joy and wonder.  “Was it really this splendid last year?” one of my companions asked.  “I go every year,” she said, “but I forget how gorgeous it is!” She comes back each year to remember the beauty and the awe.  So, too, it can be with our practice.  We stop going to class or practicing our meditation or asana for a while because we get too busy.  Then we come back, and we ask ourselves how we could have forgotten the joy and beauty a steady practice brings us, and we are inspired to commit again.

Share